1 February, 2017

20th anniversary – what we've learned

by Michael Zelmer, Fairtrade Canada Board of Directors

Whenever we reach a milestone, like a 20-year anniversary, it’s tempting to look back at all we’ve accomplished and to pat ourselves on the back. While there have certainly been many important developments in fair trade, both in Canada and abroad, it’s important to view even the most positive with humility and to look upon the past as an opportunity to do better in the future.

For example, while what is now known as the Fairtrade system has been critical to the scale of fair trade today, we didn’t invent fair trade, we don’t cover all of fair trade, and we can’t reasonably claim credit for all that’s good about fair trade. While the certification we provide in Canada has contributed to a massive expansion in the marketplace to the point that a Fairtrade certified product can be found in practically every grocery and convenience store in the country, this wouldn’t have occurred without the businesses who make and sell those products. And while a growing number of towns and cities, universities and schools, workplaces and more are stepping up and committing to source more Fairtrade certified products, this wouldn’t have been possible without supporters from Canadian civil society, and leaders from within those same institutions.

In other words, to paraphrase Isaac Newton, for any success we might hope to claim, we stand on the shoulders of giants - of those who came before us, of those who have worked alongside us, of those who worked both for and against us.

But what have we learned that will help us achieve much more, much faster?

We’ve learned that more is possible through co-operation, both within the Fairtrade system through natural allies like Fairtrade America and the Producer Networks, and within Canada. For example, Fairtrade Canada is the only organization in the world that is a fully democratic blend of both civil society organizations and companies working to advance fair trade. We are unified in the importance of both driving the volume of fair trade sales and the quality of Fairtrade standards.

We’ve learned that we can be far more active in the Canadian marketplace, and must if we’re to achieve our goals. Though we’ve made some real gains over the years, there is so much more we could and will be doing to influence the marketplace: engaging retailers, institutions, and manufacturers. Through programs that wouldn’t be possible without the support of civil society organizations like CFTN and AQCE, and through supporting the marketing efforts of our incredible licensees.

And finally, we’ve learned that we must invest in those who will lead the next twenty years: our staff, our Board, our members, and our broader stakeholders across Canada. We must commit to our values and to the people who will support us in our vision.

So what does this all mean? That our next twenty years will make the first twenty look like a warm-up lap.